Common Spotted Cuscus (Spilocuscus maculatus) photo by Waterdragon62

Common Spotted Cuscus (Spilocuscus maculatus) photo by Waterdragon62

This is the common spotted cuscus (Spilocuscus maculatus) an arboreal marsupial from the Cape York region of Australia and New Guinea.  The furtive nocturnal animal is seldom seen by humans, but it is quite successful and has spread through Papua New Guinea, Irian Jaya, and the Cape York Peninsula. The common spotted cuscus is a species of possums, a group of approximately 70 species of arboreal marsupials which are native to Australia, New Guinea, and Sulawesi.  The Indo-Australian possums are analogous in lifestyle to the opossums of the Americas. Because of their furtive lifestyles most possums and opossums are unknown except to specialist zoologists (with the exception of the incredibly successful Virginia opossum).

Spotted Cuscus (Spilocuscus maculatus)

Spotted Cuscus (Spilocuscus maculatus)

The common spotted cuscus is about the size of a housecat and weighs from 1.5 to 6 kilograms (3.3 to 13.2 pounds). The name is something of a sexist misnomer—among adults, only the males have blotchy spots on their grey/brown pelts.  The spotted cuscus has numerous specialized features for its tree-dwelling lifestyle including nimble clawed digits on both its hands and feet, a prehensile tail, and strongly binocular vision.  Its paws are particularly adapted for grabbing trees: the “palms” of its hands and feet are bare with special striations to give the animal a nimble clinging grip.  Both its hands and feet have opposable grips—in fact the first and second digits of a cuscus’ forefoot are opposable to the other three digits so it can hold on to limbs with a deathlock.  The cuscus has few natural enemies other than pythons and predatory birds, but if it is threatened it will bark aggressively and attack with its forepaws.

Spotted Cuscus (Spilocuscus maculatus) by Mark Moffet

Spotted Cuscus (Spilocuscus maculatus) by Mark Moffet

The spotted cuscus mostly lives on a wide variety of plant products—leaves, fruits, seeds, and nectar, however, given the opportunity, the cuscus also eats small animals and eggs. A mother cuscus usually has only one infant, which she raises in her pouch till it is big enough to ride on her back (although occasional larger litters of up to three are known).

Infant common spotted cuscus (photo by Ryan Photographic)

Infant common spotted cuscus (photo by Ryan Photographic)

The common spotted cuscus lives in dense tropical forests and mangroves.  It has a lifespan of up to eleven years.  So far the common spotted cuscus has not been threatened by habitat loss and indeed remains common (although increased logging in New Guinea may put pressure on some populations).

22 Oct 2007, Tufi, Papua New Guinea --- A hand-raised spotted cuscus (Spilocuscus maculatus), a member of the opossum family, in Tufi, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea. --- Image by © Michele Westmorland/Science Faction/Corbis

22 Oct 2007, Tufi, Papua New Guinea — A hand-raised spotted cuscus (Spilocuscus maculatus), a member of the opossum family, in Tufi, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea. — Image by © Michele Westmorland/Science Faction/Corbis